Two-time Palme d’Or winner Bille August’s latest, Silent Heart, addresses the controversial topic of euthanasia in this tale of a family coming together to farewell their grandmother, Esther (Ghita Nørby), planning to overdose on pills before she is rendered immobile by a degenerative disease.
August seems strongly influenced by Fanny and Alexander – in particular, the celebration that precedes grief and loss that’s at the centre of the first episode of Bergman’s mini-series – even recreating the iconic bed shot a number of times throughout the film. Rather than address the moral, existential and spiritual issues that drove Bergman’s filmography and are integral to discussions around euthanasia, Silent Heart is more broadly interested in challenging binaries – particularly the way in which we view our parents.
Esther’s daughters (Paprika Steen and Danica Curcic) are adults, yet as the film progresses we see they’re unable to find the middle ground between their parents as infallible saints or irrevocably-flawed people. Thankfully, Silent Heart exists somewhere in the middle, similarly refusing to advocate for one side or the other of the euthanasia debate. A seemingly-misguided feint towards melodrama in the second act is thankfully subverted; August is aiming for authenticity over simplicity, and he largely succeeds.